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Dr. Dre Breaks a Billion – or does he? And if not, does it really matter?

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Mid last week, reports broke that Apple Inc. was set to purchase Beats Electronics LLC from Co-Founder Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, Co-Founder and CEO Jimmy Iovine, and Carlysle Group for an estimated 3.2 billion dollars.  A now infamous video surfaced on social media of Dre, Tyrese (who filmed it), and others celebrating the impending sale.   Though it was quickly removed the following morning, thanks to Youtube those of you who haven’t yet seen it can view it right now:

Dre’s enthusiasm in the video is certainly understandable.  For anybody to break the billion dollar threshold is certainly an accomplishment worth celebrating (and boasting about), but  becoming the first billionaire in Hip Hop stands as an extra special accomplishment and comes with significant bragging rights.  Remember, Hip Hop culture and Rap music was the pop culture underdog for a long time.  Though some trace the origins of the ‘Rap’ form itself to Muhammad Ali, The Last Poets (and other theories out there place its roots even before that), the culture and genre as we know it today began in the early 1970s in South Bronx, New York with a black and Latino youth movement that included elements such as turntablism, block parties, breakdancing, graffiti, and of course rapping.  This means that Hip Hop culture is only roughly 40 years old, and for a good chunk of those early years the artform and culture were capitalized upon financially, but undermined publicly.

The pundits in the 80’s and even into the early 90’s believed that Rap music and Hip Hop would eventually die out.  Despite the cultural impact of pioneers like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash in the 70’s and early 80’s, and the underground and at times crossover successes of groups like the Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Boogie Down Productions, The Fat Boys, and most notably Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J, the Grammy’s didn’t even recognize Rap music until 1989 (and didn’t air the award on tv that year, resulting in a boycott of the event from winners DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Salt & Pepa, Fab Five Freddy, et al.).  Combine that with the FBI going after NWA in 1989 over lyrics from ‘Fuck Tha Police’ (http://articles.latimes.com/1989-10-05/entertainment/ca-1046_1_law-enforcement), as well as former vice president’s Dan Quayle’s and later C. Dolores Tucker’s attack on Tupac’s music in the early-mid 90s (http://articles.latimes.com/1992-09-23/news/mn-1144_1_rap-album / http://articles.latimes.com/1996-03-20/news/mn-49205_1_c-delores-tucker) and the point here is clear as day: Hip Hop was not supposed to survive.

NWA

But survive WE did, and though the latest Forbes analysis concludes that Dr. Dre’s current stake in Beats Electronics (estimated anywhere from 15% – 27.5% in every report I’ve dug up) will result in Dre “only” being worth $800 million (has there ever been a more sarcastic use of the word “only”?) after the sale to Apple is finalized, at minimum the good Doctor will leapfrog Sean “P. Diddy” Combs (whose net worth Forbes lists at $700 million) to become Hip Hop’s top mogul (http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/05/09/apples-3-2b-beats-buy-would-make-dre-raps-richest-man/).  Another report has surfaced that  both Dre and Jimmy Iovine will land Senior positions within Apple once the deal is complete (http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2457880,00.asp).  And who knows whether Dre and/or Iovine will have any stock options at Apple and/or some partial retention of the Beats By Dre brand that may ultimately push Dre’s net worth over the billion dollar threshold.  We’ll have to wait patiently to find out of course, but whether or not Dre gets there now or later, or whether the likes of Puffy, Jay-Z, & co. catch up to Dre and get to a billion first, at this point it’s pretty much a given that Hip Hop will eventually have produced billionaires.  That’s right, billionaires, plural.

A genre that had to fight for its right to party, a counter-culture that historically has toed the line between uplifting and educating its own and celebrating those same urban, impoverished circumstances that it tries to overcome will soon (can already?) boast a billionaire of its own.  And that’s not to overstate it.  This isn’t Obama becoming the president, or Jackie Robinson breaking racial barriers in professional sports.  But it’s a big deal.  It’s a win for Hip Hop and anyone who considers themselves part of Hip Hop culture.  It’s confirmation that this music, this art form, this genre CAN spearhead a series of career moves and business ventures that can result in rubbing elbows with the wealthiest of the wealthy.  Obviously, not everyone in Hip Hop is going to break a billion, and be prepared for the long-haul if that’s your goal (Dre’s journey started in the mid-80s with the World Class Wreckin Cru, Puffy’s in the early 90’s as an intern under Andre Harrell at Uptown Records).  But at least now we know it’s possible.

And if it is in fact Dre that gets there first, it’s a win for the West Coast.  Hip Hop has always been a competitive sport, with Battle Rapping setting the tone for said cultural mentality.  And though Dr. Dre remained largely neutral in the whole East Coast vs. West Coast media (and Tupac / Suge Knight) driven nonsense of the mid-90’s, the fact remains the figureheads of the two labels at the center of the ‘beef’ were Dr. Dre (Death Row) and Puffy Daddy (Bad Boy).  So it’s fitting that the race for a billion would come down to these two men (though I wouldn’t necessarily count Jay-Z out of the running, with a current net worth of $520 million, per Forbes latest reports).  And as such, even though the remnants of that unfortunate time in Hip Hop that somehow resulted in the deaths of Biggie and ‘Pac have largely withered away (though Kendrick’s ‘Control’ verse from last year resurfaced some of that competitive fire), it’s no surprise that Dre would big up the West Side in a drunken, celebratory billionaire boast.  If there’s ANYBODY who’s responsible for the West Coast becoming the force in Rap music that it is today, it’s Dr. Dre (see NWA, Death Row Records, Snoop Doggy Dogg, The Chronic, Doggystyle, The Game, Aftermath Records, Kendrick Lamar, etc…).

So good for Dre, good for the West Coast, and good for Hip Hop.  Because even if it’s “just” $800 million, we’re talking about a guy who went from ‘Little Ghetto Boy’ to making deals with Apple Inc.  And when you put that in the perspective of not only Hip Hop’s humble beginnings, but Dr. Dre’s as well, it’s nothing short of amazing.  Now if he’ll only drop this Detox album…

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